The Scottish government’s plans for a minimum price on alcohol are a useful contribution to the debate on alcohol

The Scottish government’s plan to introduce a minimum price per unit on alcohol has divided opinion, but the more I think about the more I think it’s a good idea.

Generally I’m dead against any meddling in the operation of the free market by politicians, particularly by the Scottish government which has shown itself to be keen on headline grabbing stunts over recent years.

But there’s no doubt that alcohol abuse and the social problems it causes is a big issue, and probably more so north of the border than anywhere else. And actually having looked at the calculations, the impact on responsible drinkers who drink “normal” drinks will be minimal if non-existent.

Where it will make a difference is on the really cheap and absolutely disgusting super-strength beers and ciders which as far as I can tell are only purchased and drunk by alcoholics. Well, I tried a can once on a school field trip when I was in sixth-form, and learnt my lesson pretty quickly, but I think we all did that at some point. Didn’t we?

Making these vile products prohibitively expensive would have no adverse effects on social drinkers but could definitely make problem drinkers think twice. The concern would have to be that in the way drug addicts tend to, they end up turning to crime in order to fund their habit, maybe just by trying to steal it from retailers rather than buying it.

The odd quirk about the proposal is that for a government which has consistently shown itself to be anti-business, what minimum pricing would do is in effect hand retailers extra ‘free’ margin. As far as I can tell the proceeds of the minimum price wouldn’t go to the NHS or organisations which help alcoholics. It would spell an end to the irresponsible practice of below-cost selling of alcohol which the supermarkets engage in, which would be no bad thing, although the supermarkets might not be too happy as promotions on booze have become big drivers of footfall, particularly during events like the World Cup.

From what I gather the plan hasn’t got too much chance of making it to be law, and there’s bound to be some competition issue which someone will raise which gets in the way. But I applaud the proposals, which are if nothing else a constructive addition to the debate about problem drinking.